I’m a 1/72 enthusiast, and a few years ago I was brainstorming how to cobble together a decent 1/72nd model of the Electra. I’d seen photos of various conversions of Hasegawa’s P-3 kit – some produced from after market conversion kits – but there were often a few things that seemed a little off. I finally took the plunge and you can see the results – not perfect, but I’m happy. Here’s what I did.
Lockheed first flew it’s new turboprop airliner in 1957, and after working out problems with propeller whirl mode flutter, the airplane went on to become a success with many airlines around the world. Many continue to fly with freight operators today. The Navy’s P-3 Orion was based on the Electra design, and the two types share the same basic wing, tail surfaces, fuselage and engines. The major external differences are in the forward fuselage and the tail cone area. Forward of the wing, the Electra ‘s fuselage was longer and of circular cross-section, and without the Orion’s weapons bay hump. The cockpit window arrangement was simpler on the airliner too, with just two large windshield panes instead of the Orion’s three. The nose radome was blunter on the airliner, and at the aft end the Electra lacked the MAD stinger of course – instead, the rear fuselage tapered smoothly to a point just behind the tail surfaces.
I began by enlarging some accurate drawings of the airplane to 1/72 scale at the local copy shop. I also got together two Hasegawa P-3C kits – one would be a donor to supply sections for the new fuselage. I also needed some new props. Since I wanted to eventually build a second model, I decided to cast the conversion parts in resin.
I needed to change the contour of the tail cone from just ahead of the horizontal stabilizer aft. After gluing together and removing this area from the spare fuselage, I carved a new tail cone from basswood, using my drawings for the top and side profiles. I white-glued the wooden shape to the aft fuselage, whittled and sanded it to the right shape, then removed it. The mounting surfaces for the horizontal stabilizers came from the removed P-3 section. I got this by cementing laminated sheet plastic between the stabilizer base plates. When dry, this allowed me to cut away the plastic surrounding the plates while maintaining the right spacing. This contraption was then glued into a slot cut laterally across the top of the wooden tail cone. A small triangular vertical fin extension (that sits beneath the rudder) made from plastic sheet was also attached to the top of the tail cone. Finally, I used a Dremel tool to bore out most of the wood inside. This would keep the weight down and minimize the amount of weight needed in the nose to balance things. After all was puttied, sanded and sealed I then made an RTV rubber mold for casting resin copies.
This was made from wood in the same way as the tail cone. Fortunately the radome’s base is the same shape on both airplanes, so the bulkhead on the Hasegawa fuselage worked as a template.
Here you have a major difference between the two aircraft. The forward fuselage of the Electra is 7′ 4″ longer than the P-3, so again I used my extra kit. The P-3 rear fuselage has a circular cross section, so I was able to cut out a 31.0-mm long area around the rear cabin door for the extension. Extra slices of fuselage wall were also glued into the extension’s inner surface to back up and strengthen the seams.
The P-3’s forward belly weapons bay had to go, so I removed this from my primary kit’s parts and from the fuselage extension piece. To fill the void in the lower fuselage I resorted to using the spare kit. A section of the fuselage mid-cabin roof was cut to match the missing area. In photos I had noticed an air inlet under the left fuselage just ahead of the wing (evidently for air conditioning equipment) so I cut this out and added thin plastic strips to simulate the raised outline of the scoop. I could see things were going to be a little flimsy, and not wanting the model to break apart on me, I added more plastic strips to the new belly piece to back up the seams. Molds were then made to replicate the new extension and belly pieces.
I wanted to make clear cabin windows, and decided on inserting clear acrylic strips in the fuselage sides (if I do it again I’ll use clear styrene for the cabin window strips, since the acrylic is much more difficult to shape). These were glued in with super glue and backed up with styrene strips around the edges for strength. When the fuselage was finally closed up, I could sand and polish the outside surface of the acrylic to match the surrounding contours. Each individual window could then be defined by masking off before painting.
If you look at the flight deck area it seems the outer windshield posts are in the same place on both aircraft, although the Electra has just two large windshield panes. I began by cutting out the cockpit area in each fuselage half, cementing them together, then gluing in the clear plastic canopy. After things were dry, the three clear forward P-3 panes were removed. I then cut two similar shapes of sheet plastic and super glued these into place to define the panes of the new windshield. Super glue again filled in the cracks and gaps, and the shape was refined with file and sandpaper. I also cleaned up the inside as well. At this point I didn’t worry about seeing through the windows, as this part would only be used to make a mold.
Next I made an RTV mold and cast an opaque resin copy of the cockpit shell. Over this casting I could then form a new clear canopy section. Since I don’t have a vacu-former, I have taken to hand stretching heated clear plastic sheet over molds, but this method doesn’t work well if there is a step between the windshield and the nose in front of it. I solved my dilemma by shaving off the stepped nose area from a sacrificed resin copy of the cockpit shell, filling it with plaster of Paris, and then stretch forming Squadron Thermaform sheet over it. After trimming the new clear piece, I cut slots in another resin shell (one WITH the step) with a razor saw to receive the extended lower front edge of the stretch formed canopy. I then cut out each window opening in the resin shell and added an overhead control panel. Next the two parts were sandwiched together with epoxy and set aside to be glued into place on the fuselage later.
Being a bit of a masochist, I decided to open the cabin doors and model a little of the interior. Sheet plastic was used to make the floor, a few passenger seats, rear galley, overhead hat racks, forward luggage racks, and cabin bulkheads. Crepe paper became cabin and galley window curtains. The front cabin door was to be shown in the full open position so just the lower edge is visible in the top of the opening.
I also rearranged and enlarged the flight deck interior to try to match a cutaway drawing I had. I added engine/propeller controls, a fourth jumpseat, fire extinguisher, circuit breaker panel, and other small details. I can’t claim total accuracy here, but what can be seen looks convincing.
I had previously separated the instrument panel glare shield from the P-3 fuselage. It was now reshaped, painted, and attached to the top of the instrument panel. Placing it properly took some time, since it couldn’t interfere with the cockpit shell when it was finally fitted.
I had to remove the remnant of the P-3 weapons bulge in the lower wing piece. Unfortunately this weakened the wing and so a spar had to be made to give it rigidity and set the dihedral. I made the spar from rectangular brass tubing sandwiched between sheet plastic, and epoxied it into the lower wing. I should have fitted it BEFORE cutting anything – but live and learn! There was also an additional small bulged fairing aft of this area which had to be removed, blanked off and filled with Milliput. While I was at it I also filled the slots for the Orion underwing pylons, and thickened the inside of the wingtips with epoxy so they could be trimmed back and sanded to civilian shape later.
I also took the time to spruce up the wheel wells by adding a few hydraulic lines made from wire and solder.
The wing root plates in the upper wing pieces were then notched to fit over the new spar and the upper wings cemented to the lower. Corresponding notches also had to be cut into the fuselage wing roots to accept the spar.
I now needed to make some convincing Aeroproducts propellers. The round tipped Hamilton Standard blades on the P-3 kit were just too narrow to reshape, so I decided to cast new ones in resin. A master blade was made by individually twisting two rectangular pieces of sheet plastic and laminating them together with super glue. After shaping, a hole was drilled into the base and a brass shaft attached. When it came time to cast, I placed a brass shaft into each mold before pouring. After much hair pulling, I finally got sixteen decent copies in resin. I also added short sections of brass tubing into the spinners to receive the blades. After painting the blades and spinners separately, I made a jig for prop assembly and used 5 minute epoxy to assemble them. I was very happy with the result, and they seem to capture the look of the L-188’s massive props.
At this point I was in need of some encouragement and was looking forward to getting all the pieces together into something recognizable. The forward fuselage halves containing the cockpit and nose wheel well were glued together, and then super glued to the fuselage extension. The remainder of the fuselage was then glued together, and the wing attached. Next this assembly was fitted to the forward section along with the new forward belly piece, and once everything looked aligned, super glue was applied. I like this stuff because it fills seams with no shrinkage and sands like plastic.
Finally, I attached the new flight deck window area and tail cone (again backed up with plastic strips). This sealed the fuselage, except for the open cabin doors. To keep sanding dust and paint from getting inside, I sealed the door openings with tape and masking liquid. After puttying (don’t forget all those sonobuoy holes), sanding, priming, scribing, and repeating the whole process a few times, the beast was beginning to look like an Electra.
The P-3 wingtips were now sanded to shape. A pair of “MV” model railroad lenses were added to holes drilled out under the wing between each pair of engines to simulate retractable landing lights, as well as some smaller ones to the fuselage and outer nacelles for wing observation lights. Another improvement made was to open up and line the engine intakes with sections of styrene tubing. I also removed the elevators and glued them back in a drooped position
I especially liked American Airlines’ paint scheme, with its bright orange lightning bolts and big expanses of polished aluminum. My model represents American’s second Electra in its original delivery paint (before it was modified to eliminate propeller whirl mode problems and renamed “Electra II”). I wanted to try the new Alclad II metallic finishing system to represent the new aircraft’s polished aluminum. Alclad II lacquer requires a suitable base coat to protect the plastic underneath, so after masking the windows with Friskit the entire model can be sprayed with a white acrylic lacquer primer (Tamiya’s spray being highly recommended). The AA lightning bolts and control surfaces were next masked and finished with Testor’s Model Master International Orange, and the wing box areas, wheel wells, and other non-aluminum airframe details were painted with a mixture of Model Master Insignia White and Gull Grey. Next, after masking all of this I sprayed on a coat of Alclad “white aluminum”. One of the advantages of this paint is that you can (carefully) tape over it without causing damage, and I was able to mask and highlight various metal areas with Alclad’s “aluminum” and “dark aluminum”, and finally spray the black anti-glare panel without any problems.
In masking I made use of 3M Scotch plastic tape (the blue stuff) as much as possible because it takes bends in the road pretty well, but had to supplement with clear frosted cello tape for the thin white striping around the orange. This tape doesn’t stretch and bend as well but allowed me to see the width of the white stripe as I masked. I also worried about a problem I’ve had in the past – pulling up chunks of paint when I removed the tape! Fortunately I was able to keep my greasy fingerprints to a minimum during masking and tried to use some low tack tape as well, and suffered only a few chips at the tips of wings and tail.
One problem I had was that the Friskit had been on the model long enough that it left a gummy residue on the windows when peeled off. I was able to remove this with rubbing alcohol followed by restrained polishing with #6000 and #8000 Micro Mesh. The surrounding Alclad proved to be pretty tough stuff!
Since there were no decals available, I scanned a 1/144 decal sheet to use as a template for Adobe Illustrator and redrew the art to 1/72 scale on my computer. The AA logos and lettering had white in them, and since my ink jet printer doesn’t do this color, they were printed on Bare Metal Foil’s white inkjet decal film and cut to their exact outline. The other decals – dark blue pinstriping around the white and orange areas, registrations, and miscellaneous lettering – were printed on clear inkjet film. Both sheets were over coated with Microscale Liquid Decal Film to protect the ink from water. They then went on well with a little Super Sol setting solution, which fortunately didn’t bother these shades of Alclad
After decaling, I added landing gear, props, pitot tubes, and beacons. I glued the rear door in a half-open position, simulating an attempt at ventilation on a warm tarmac. I also wanted to represent the Electra’s forward airstairs, which folded into the door space. This I made with Evergreen styrene and brass wire, and painted it with Metalizer aluminum. Black decal anti-slip strips were added to the top of each stair and three tiny homemade “American” decals were placed facing outward.
Well, it will be a while before I attempt my second Electra, but in spite of the challenges I enjoyed putting it all together and feel a lot more confident in tackling future dream projects. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you give it a try. Now for something out of the box!